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Published on March 21, 2019

e-cigarette and bottles of liquid nicotine

Nicotine Products Pose Poisoning Threats

Since young children are at the highest risk for poisoning, this is a good time to educate ourselves about a relatively new poison concern – electronic cigarettes.

Any nicotine product causes health concerns if ingested by children: cigarette butts, nicotine patches, nicotine gum or lozenges and chewing tobacco. Electronic cigarettes, also known as e-cigs or vapes, are a newer form of device that allows nicotine to be inhaled.

Electronic cigarettes were developed as a way for smokers to reduce or kick their smoking habit, and they seem to help some people achieve this goal. But these devices are also used recreationally by people who don’t want to quit smoking or who have never smoked. There is concern that the variety of interesting and unusual flavors of liquid nicotine is targeting children. E-cigarettes are now the most popular form of tobacco use among teens.

What They Are, How They Work

An e-cigarette is a cylinder that can resemble a real cigarette. It contains a battery, a tiny heater, a compartment for the liquid nicotine, and a mouthpiece. The heater turns the liquid into a vapor that is inhaled much like cigarette smoke. The nicotine compartment can be replaced with a new cartridge or can be refilled.

These devices use liquid nicotine that is highly concentrated. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) cautions that one small vial has enough toxins to kill four toddlers if ingested. One teaspoon of this highly concentrated liquid nicotine can be fatal for a 26-pound toddler. This liquid can also be toxic if absorbed through the skin.

Hazards for Young Children

The cartridges and refill vials of liquid nicotine come in a variety of enticing flavors that smell like chocolate, fruit or candy. I visited a website selling these items, and found more than 10 pages of flavors with approximately 70 per page.

You can choose from flavors like blue raspberry cotton candy, Bavarian cream, banana nut bread, brownie and butterscotch ripple. Some of the packaging even displays pictures. A child could easily mistake these substances for something edible when they see the packaging and smell the product.

Keeping Kids Safe

A federal law was enacted in 2016, requiring that all liquid nicotine products be sold in containers that comply with the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s child-resistant packaging standards. But "child-resistant" does not mean "child-proof."  Many children learn how to open child-resistant containers and packages.

People who use any nicotine products must follow these safety rules:

  • Don’t smoke, use chewing tobacco, vape or inhale around children.
  • Keep your home and car nicotine free.
  • Store any nicotine product out of sight and out of reach; this includes cigarettes; snuff tubs; nicotine gum, lozenges or patches; and liquid nicotine cartridges and vials.
  • If your purse, tote bag or computer carry case contains nicotine products, keep these out of sight and out of reach.
  • Be aware if family or friends use these products; take precautions when visiting to be sure these items are out of sight and out of reach
  • Dispose of used products carefully! There may still be enough liquid nicotine left in a used vial or cartridge to harm a child. Ingesting cigarette butts, loose tobacco or tobacco cessation products can also be harmful.

Keep the Poison Control Center number handy; it’s 800-222-1222. This is the number you should call if you think your child has been exposed to nicotine products.

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